Evolution of the workplace

by Preeti Bajaj
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Buildings and the workplace are evolving. They are moving from being inert containers to being real-time assets – connected real estate where the building can load balance itself, optimising its reaction to its real-time occupancy.

With this evolution there is a potential to shift the property industry forward. The advances in analytics and predictive optimisation mean that the utilisation of buildings and the work of those managing them will become so much more sophisticated.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is converging with real estate to create an ecosystem where every aspect of the building can be connected – in effect the building will be a neutral network.

Once, proprietary systems and protocols meant that building-based systems could not effectively talk to each other. There is now convergence, open standards based around the internet protocol (IP) and a unified network that means a building can, for the first time, have a really smart, centralised backbone and network, where things can all connect and speak to one another. And amazing things can happen when you connect the unconnected.

The rise of networked building opens up all sorts of possibilities, from connected real estate providing property directors or commercial real estate (CRE) function with a live view of their portfolio, to the idea that a property can engineer serendipity and so play a part in corporate success – more assets and fewer overheads.

IoT informs how space will be used

With the advancement of the IoT, more and more devices, sensors, meters and hardware are coming online. All of them will provide information.

In a smart building, this data will be able to provide incredibly detailed information on how a building’s use is changing, which rooms and spaces have people in them and when certain items need replacing, cleaning, maintaining or turning off.

In a Schneider Electric study, 78 percent of people agreed that capturing real-time data on how staff are using workspaces is a major trend.

The technological backbone of a smart building, the integrated control and management system (ICMS) or building management system (BMS), receives information from sensors and devices that are spread around the building and will be able to adjust settings for temperature, light and room allocation in response.

In most commercial buildings today, the BMS only regulates critical plant systems, but the next generation of ICMS can do so much more. It can be connected to the smart devices, acting as the building’s operating system, and making decisions on how to optimise the building’s performance.

The energy savings that can be made from the real-time monitoring and adjustment of these systems is considerable. In addition, the use of open protocols gives some assurance of future-proofing the system for new technologies and further scalability.

While there are relatively few corporate buildings in Australia fully utilising this next generation of smart building technology, there are some good examples of public constructions that are using the technology to intuitively maximise sustainability.

For example, the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute has achieved an 18 percent saving on energy by using an intelligent metering system and is future-proofed by using an integrated building system based on open communication protocols.

[quote style=’1′ cite=”]The Internet of Things (IoT) is converging with real estate to create an ecosystem where every aspect of the building can be connected – in effect the building will be a neutral network.[/quote]

With the emergence of power over ethernet (PoE) systems, where electrical power and data can be transmitted over ethernet cabling, individual low power devices, such as LED lighting and CCTV cameras, can be powered and can then send back data to the ICMS.

This can tell it, for example, that it will need maintenance in a few weeks or advise on adjusting Lux based on daylight. PoE enables the monitoring and control of power consumption at the device, allowing individual devices to be switched off when not required.

From a facilities point of view, the amount of data feeding back into the ICMS allows it to become an intuitive building, which knows instinctively what needs to be done. This intuition conserves energy and has the potential for huge cost savings.

The ICMS functions on multiple levels, deciding which bathrooms are being used most and therefore need cleaning, to identifying underutilised areas that can be turned off at quiet times and which should ultimately be looked at for rezoning.

The base levels of comfort settings and occupancy are then overlaid with the content of social media, web-based collaboration tools and even voice and sound sensors to provide an intricate understanding of the kind of interactions and collaborations that are happening in the space.

The organisation can then plan and manage the building with the deep knowledge and understanding they need to do this effectively.

Optimising a multigenerational workforce

We are in a unique time, where we have four (going on to five) generations in the workforce at once. It is clear that these generations see work in different ways and have different expectations of the workplace, but there are also commonalities and opportunities.

Optimising the collaboration between the generations is an additional way to boost innovation and productivity, so needed by the Australian economy. But while your classic Baby Boomer is unlikely to be expecting a social life from the workplace, they have had a long working life during which technology has been changing, progressing and often underperforming.

Their tolerance for things that do not ‘just work’ can be pretty low. The Millennial generation, or Gen Y, will almost certainly be looking to work to add something to their social life, but have grown up with the latest technology and will expect it to work well in the workplace.

On a purely physical level, the amount of noise, light and temperature that people of different ages tolerate can also be very different. Boomers have been shown to be rather intolerant of noise and have more trouble regulating their body temperature.

A workspace that allows you to set comfort settings to your optimum working conditions does not only help this generation, but suits all ages. Equally, really flexible activity-based working (ABW) gives people the choice to work in a place that suits their needs and expectations, whether that is a noisy team space or a quiet booth, whatever age they are.

Your workplace app can not only allow you to control the ambient environment, but can also direct you to the right place to work for you.

With an increasingly ageing population, the demographic of the workplace will shift as we see older people staying longer in the workforce. If people are fit and well, then they are more productive and take fewer sick days. This will be even more important with an ageing workforce.

The Edge in Amsterdam is a leading global example of a smart workplace. Credit: Ronald Tilleman.

The Edge in Amsterdam is a leading global example of a smart workplace. Credit: Ronald Tilleman.

Organisational culture – what really attracts talent?

The next generation of workplace should optimise the working conditions of all of its occupants. A building should not only enable smart working, but also represent the ethos of the company, feeding into the corporate brand and company narrative.

What differentiates an organisation from its competitors is the experience you have when entering a building, which is a reflection of the culture of an organisation. This is relevant to the customer experience as well as to that of the employees.

According to the Harvard Business Review, the next generation of workers, Gen Y and Z, are looking for ‘flexible work arrangements and the opportunity to give back to society’ as the two most important factors in the rewards-mix that attracts them to an employer.

A job is more about who you are and what you represent than ever before. By working for a company you are looking to achieve your goals, but are also aligning your ideals with the organisation.

Ideally, the workplace is a commodity that suits your lifestyle and allows you to achieve your aims. If your workplace does not offer that, in a competitive market there will be another company that will.

Clients and customers also experience the corporate culture when they visit a building. A smart building can provide important differentiation in an equally competitive market.

With the introduction of customer apps giving travel advice, parking details and way-finding information, the client experience can be as seamless or even better than an employee’s. How a building looks and functions creates a valuable impression on a customer.

We have already established that attracting and retaining talent is a key driver for investment in buildings and technology. The personal technology provided to potential employees and the environment that is created in the workplace are important elements in the offer for new workers. These elements are also vital in staff retention.

In the more fluid workplace market of today, with increased use of contract and freelance staff, and new working models such as online outsourcing platforms, the traditional workforce structure is changing. Individuals can choose to work for a company that fits in not only with their aspirations and self-image, but also with their work model.

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